Freelancing is a lifestyle. It involves a lot of personal legwork that would otherwise be done by the company you're employed with. Going solo is a challenge as you have no choice but to do all the work in order to succeed. And depending on what your goal is, that freedom can be more valuable than the money you make.
In my pursuit for more work, I've taken up additional resources in the form of creative agencies. These are companies that do the heavy lifting to find clients that are in need of my talents. When I signed up, I told them I was only interested in freelance or short-term contract work. Recently, one of the agents I work with contacted me with a job she thought I would be perfect for. She sent me the description and it was everything I was capable of doing. The catch: it was a full-time, permanent position. You know, a normal 9-5 job. She told me to look it over and take some time to think about it. But I already knew my answer was no. It's not that I couldn't do with the extra money, it was the sacrifices I would have to make for it. And I couldn't do that.
I might sound stuck-up for turning down a job that many people would be happy, if not grateful, to have. I used to have that mindset not too long ago. What changed for me was after years of being in that environment, I knew I wasn't suited for it. I did everything I was expected to do and I felt empty inside. The offices I worked in was sterile and the work itself was no better. My last full-time office job was terribly mundane. I only used a tiny fraction of my creative abilities and I wanted more. They didn't have more for me, or they had enough designers already, or they might have more in a year. I didn't want to wait for job satisfaction to come to me, so I went to it. I turned in my 30 day notice, took the plunge into full-time freelancing, and never looked back. I do miss the paychecks but money seemed less important than my happiness. It took many years for me to accept that fact about myself, but I felt free once I did.
What I wanted from my career was something I had more control of. I wanted to have the opportunity to doodle in a cafe in the middle of a weekday afternoon. I wanted to pick the projects, and the people, I worked on rather than be assigned to them. I wanted the chance to take the dog for a walk when I needed some time away. I wanted the freedom that only a freelance career could give. There may be a creative agency or company that allows their employees to bring their dogs to work and move their laptop to wherever they want. Maybe I haven't found the one for me yet. Maybe I never will. Should I spend everyday searching for the elusive dream job? Who says that happiness only comes from working for someone else? Only I can decide what works best for me.
This lifestyle isn't for everyone. I'm still waiting to hear from one person telling me how foolish I am for leaving a secure job. Perhaps I'll have to go back to an office someday and all this would have been for naught. Thankfully, I've never actually met that person since going solo. I hear more breaths of awe and support from people I meet. This lifestyle isn't easy, but I couldn't be more happy.
There is nothing dirtier, or more insulting, to a designer or artist that does their craft for a living than to call them a "hobbyist." Full stop. No really. There are many things you could call them that may or may not be true, but calling them a hobbyist dilutes all their education and experience into a flavorless goulash of mediocrity. Let's be honest here for a moment. Not everyone can be an artist in the sense of a financially successful one. Yes, everyone can be an artist in one aspect or another. But your child's crayon drawings are not the next Picasso or Banksy. Sorry parents. Even if they wish really, REALLY, hard they won't make it to that level without a butt-load of work and dedication.
There's an old saying that goes "Make your hobby your career and never work another day again." It's a nice sentiment to give someone who is stuck in a dead-end job some glimmer of hope that there is something better just beyond the horizon. But how many people actually seriously attempt to make what they love their everyday job? I'll tell you, a hell of a lot less than you'd think. Because the big reveal is there's even more work to do when you attempt to make what you love into a real money earning endeavor. It's a lot more work trying to convince other people to buy what you're selling, and still love to do it even when no one is buying.
A hobby is something a person does for leisure. That seems much more relaxing than searching for new clients, producing your own work when projects are slow, or attending all the seminars and events to keep up with networking. Even if you put a lot of time to ascend your skill level to the max, it's still something you do for an escape from the everyday. Moving that into the career realm, and there's a lot less relaxing involved. Making projects for yourself might give a much needed break to client work, but only a handful can live off their personal projects.
They can because they are the best and people want their work. Did they start as hobbyists and work their way up into careers? Possibly, but they didn't start at the middle ground and take the short climb to the top. What they might not show is all the rejected work they sent out in the early years. Even in the face of constant adversity, they kept pushing and pushing hard. Eventually, after years or even decades later, they make it. Anyone doing this as a hobby would eventually give up pushing it that hard and go back doing it for fun. Or be so turned off by the backlash that they shake off the craft completely. Rejection weeds out the weak.
I have no ill towards people that do art in any form as a hobby. I hope they enjoy it and progress their skill as far as they want to pursue it. However, the creatives that have chosen to take the professional route should be held on a higher ground. It's not being an elitist to expect to be held to a higher standard as we take what we do more seriously. This is our living. Most months, it's hand-to-mouth in regards to money and projects. I will politely correct anyone that labels me as a hobbyist and not what I actually am: a freelance graphic artist.
I've spent over a decade perfecting, and still evolving, my skill set to produce the best work I can for clients. I've been drawing since I was two years old and still crave to keep drawing everyday. And I have spent the last few years learning how to better run and maintain my business because I don't want to work in a sea of cubicles anymore. This is the most stressful and time consuming hobby if there ever was one. Calling all this work just a "hobby" doesn't do my efforts justice. It undermines the time, money, blood, sweat, tears, and hair-pulling into an easy to dismiss lark that anyone with basic motor skills can do. If anyone can do this, why aren't they?
To put it in simple terms, not everyone has the courage to. That's not a jab at people that have chosen not to make their hobbies their careers. Some people prefer to keep their hobbies just that, which is OK. Others can't handle the idea of extra work or the risks of rejection and failure. That takes the fun out of it. Hobbies are meant to be fun. I do have fun with my work, but I won't lie and say I'm grinning like a cheshire cat when modifying a logo for the fiftieth time. It's a different mental presence that is required to dig deep and keep working even when you're mentally spent.
Hobbies and careers have the same base to their souls: passion. Whatever gives you joy and pleasure stems from the drive to do it in the first place. Keep building your cabinets, blowing your glass, molding your clay, drawing your sketch, sewing your quilt, or whatever your heart wants to do. But please, don't call creative professionals hobbyists. We only play hobbyists on television.
It's finally June! That means school is out and the weather turns hot and humid within a matter of minutes. Kids can take a break from classes and turn off their brains for a few short weeks. How I miss those days when summer break was all I ever wanted after the last holiday break. Sadly those days are gone and I now find myself in the classroom more than ever before.
Freelancing means much more than working your own hours, in any location you'd like, and wearing your bath robe till noon while you work. It also means constantly learning. Non-stop learning. As much as you can get, any chance you get, you must always find new things to learn. With a more flexible schedule, I finally have a chance to attend all those meet-ups, learning lunches, seminars, visiting experts, and other events that will enrich my career.
Just this morning my local AIGA chapter posted an event for beginning freelancing. Of course I'm going to go! Even though I've been doing this for a while now I have still so many things I could learn from people who have been at it longer. Freelancing has made me more humble. The creative community is pretty tight and a bad reputation can get around quickly. It's better to be humble among your peers than a pompous ass that no one wants to work with or help out. I know I don't know everything and I could always use more advice. It's not so much a step backwards but a chance to see another perspective. An opportunity to see how others have approached the same thing I have and what their successes and failures were.
So even after twelve years of grade school and a total of seven years of college, I'm running back into a classroom mentality. Willingly. In high school I never wanted to go back to any type of school environment. Then college happened... twice. I was in my late 20's when I was done will all the schooling I could afford and realized I knew nothing. Experience is a great teacher too but it isn't always enough. Networking events and seminars given by others in the field are now my new classrooms. And I'm glad to get back to it.